26th November 2014
The first time I visited Hanoi was in 2001. I spent most of my precious time going around the usual tourist sites and only had a glimpse of the Old Quarter. For me the Old Quarter was the best bit, and I left feeling I had missed the most fascinating part of Hanoi. So I’m glad to be back in Hanoi where I have most of the day to explore the maze of backstreets and warren of alleys. Soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the sights is brilliant, but keep your eyes open to avoid the scooters!
There are 60 atmospheric streets in the Old Quarter lined with street stalls, shop-houses and residential homes, where you can observe local life that has changed little since Hanoi was founded over 1000 years ago. Some streets still specialise in original goods: Hang Gai Street offers silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery and silver products. Others have changed through time and have turned to selling Vietnamese art, jewellery, lanterns and flowers.
Don’t miss out on the street food – well it’s hard to miss as every road has street vendors with an outdoor barbeque consisting of a huge boiling pot, a basket of noodles and a frying pan. Their limited menu offers Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) which apparently cooks for 12 hours. The Vietnamese will eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner – they love it! They also sell Nem (deep fried spring rolls), made from rice paper and stuffed with vegetables.
My favourite was Bun Cha, a dish that is most popular in the north of Vietnam and rarer in the south. What you are eating is basically grilled BBQ mince and sliced pork, cold noodles with mixed fish sauce and veggies. A small bowl cost US$2 and it can be washed down with a glass of Bi Hoi (local beer).